A big, beautiful wood-fired oven, adorned with spectacular mosaics, sits majestically in Michaëlle Jean Park down by the river in North Point Douglas.
The idea for the oven came from local artist Leah Decter as a way to support community development. She spearheaded an art project with youth from Graffiti Gallery and the neighbourhood and together they consulted the community for ideas, then designed and implemented the mosaic project.
Stoking the fire of the Community Oven (courtesy of North Point Douglas Women's Resource Centre)
"It's always great to work with youth that are excited and engaged by art and are really adept at expressing themselves and thinking creatively," says Decter.
"It's also great to see what they come up with and how they integrate all these different ideas for a community project into something that's really meaningful and cohesive and beautiful."
The images on the mosaic include children playing, the park landscape
and river, a butterfly, and a number of Aboriginal themes, including
animals representing the seven sacred teachings (turtle, wolf, eagle,
bison, bear, beaver and sasquatch), and ribbons descending from the
clouds in green, black, red and white representing the four directions.
As well, local children made drawings of food and the youth copied the images and incorporated them into the mosaic.
Elaine Bishop, executive director of the North Point Douglas Women's Centre, says the community oven has made a huge difference to the neighborhood.
"It's a place of community gathering," she says. "There's a lot of sociability that happens around it. One of the things we know is that if we want communities to be safe, the more people know one another, the safer a community is. So the fact that we have community gatherings there is an opportunity to come together, to share food together--which is also a community-building sort of thing--really can make a difference."
The mosaic features images of children playing and many Aboriginal themes (Andrea Ratuski/CBC)
She also believes that for the wider public, it presents a different, positive side of North Point Douglas.
"We still are unfortunately perceived as a community where sex, drugs and crime are the big issues. And I'm not saying they aren't continuing issues, but this is an unexpected presentation. People are not used to either the beauty of the park or this community oven with this amazing mural on it. So it's a way of saying we are something other than the stereotype and I think that's really valuable."
When there had been some drug issues in the past, the answer was to remove park benches and tables. Now with the community oven, the park is becoming repopulated and they are bringing back the benches and tables.
"The way to make a park safe is to increase the number of people there, not to take the facilities and the resources out. So we see the community oven as being a contribution to safety in the park because it brings people in."
The oven has been up and running for a year now. It's available for
free to members of the community and can be rented by the general
Children from the neighbourhood drew pictures of food that the youths copied and incorporated into the design. (Andrea Ratuski/CBC)
The oven can bake 20 loaves of bread at a time. One of
the popular events is the regular pizza night where locals line up to
build their own pizza, then watch it bake in a matter of minutes.
Recently a couple threw their wedding reception in the park and cooked
two roasts of beef in the oven.